Shadwell Farm

Defining Moment for Many in Shadwell Travers

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Courtesy of NYRA

by Jenny Kellner
For each of its seven participants, the 140th running of Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Shadwell Travers Stakes encompasses an array of possibilities beyond even the glamour and excitement of winning one of the most recognizable races for 3-year-olds in the United States .

Traditionally, the prestige and the purse alone guarantee a compelling event, but this year’s “Mid-Summer Derby” offers both veterans of the Triple Crown trail and late-bloomers the chance to step up and take their place as leaders in a divisional race that could go down to the wire.

Since the advent of naming champions in 1936, 17 winners of the Shadwell Travers have been named champion 3-year-old colt or gelding, most recently Bernardini in 2006. With the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes going to three different horses (one of them a filly) the race for year-end honors among 3-year-old males begins in earnest in the Shadwell Travers.

“It’s a tough race,” said Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of William K. Warren’s Charitable Man, who came out of the Belmont Stakes to finish third in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy and who was installed at 6-1 on the morning line. “You have to have a lot of respect for these other horses.”

The biggest name in the Shadwell Travers is one which was on top of everyone’s Derby list before he was sidelined with hoof problems: Quality Road, who was made the 8-5 favorite after coming back with a vengeance in the Grade 2 Amsterdam here on August 3 in a track record of 1:13.74 for 6½ furlongs, his second straight track-record performance.

And while going from a sprint to the classic distance of 1¼ miles might be a stretch for some, trainer Todd Pletcher, who won the 2005 Travers with Flower Alley, feels it is well within Quality Road ’s scope.

“He’s a special horse,” said Pletcher of Edward P. Evans’ Florida Derby winner, who set a Gulfstream Park record of 1:47.72 in the race. “It takes a special kind of horse, with both speed and the ability to carry that speed over a distance of ground, and I think he’s that kind of horse.”

With Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird skipping the race to recuperate from surgery to repair an entrapped epiglottis, and Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra heading into the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward here on September 5, Grade 1 Belmont Stakes hero Summer Bird is the lone classic winner representative in the Shadwell Travers.

More Belmont winners have run in – and won – the Travers than Derby and Preakness victors combined, with Summer Bird’s sire, Birdstone, the 29th and most recent to do so in 2004.

“To follow Birdstone and win the Belmont and come back and win the Travers would be a great accomplishment,” said Summer Bird’s trainer, Tim Ice, of Kalarikkal and Vilasini Jayaraman’s handsome colt, the second choice on the morning-line at 3-1. “I am really happy with the way he’s coming into the race.”

With Rachel Alexandra’s connections opting for her to try and become the first of her sex to win the Woodward, her stablemate, Kensei, will carry the colors of Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Stables in the Shadwell Travers. The son of Mr. Greeley broke his maiden at the Spa last spring, but did not come around in time to make any of the classics.

In his third start at age 3, Kensei finished third at 30-1 to Munnings in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens on Belmont Stakes Day, then appeared to come into his own with impressive victories in both the Grade 2 Dwyer and the Grade 2 Jim Dandy, the traditional prep for the Shadwell Travers.

Three of the last four winners of the Travers prepped in the Jim Dandy, most recently Street Sense in 2007.

“This is the defining moment for him,” said Jackson of Kensei. “It won’t be the final moment, but it will be the defining moment.”

One who knows about defining moments is Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito, who saddled his first Shadwell Travers starter in 1980 and reached the winner’s circle in 2004 with Birdstone. That year, he also saddled The Cliff’s Edge to finish second; this year, he will send out a son of the 2004 runner-up in Robert V. LaPenta’s Our Edge, a winner of three straight, most recently the Grade 3 Barbaro at Delaware Park .

“The horse is working great and he’s coming off three big wins in a row,” said Zito of Our Edge, who, along with WinStar Farms’ Hold Me Back is listed at 15-1. “Don’t get me wrong, I told Bob LaPenta, we’re really taking an enormous shot. But we always take a shot, that’s been our deal. We either make it, or we don’t. It’s a blessing to be in it. His father, running second to Birdstone, we’ll see what happens.”

Both A. Stevens Miles, Jr.’s Warrior’s Reward and Hold Me Back have shown they can be competitive in the division as well, with Warrior’s Reward no worse than third in six of his seven lifetime starts and Hold Me Back having won the Grade 2 Lane’s End at Turfway and finishing second in the Grade 1 Blue Grass at Keeneland, both over synthetic surfaces.

“I hope the Travers is (Warrior’s Reward’s) breakthrough race,” said trainer Ian Wilkes. “He’s really improving. He’s a slow-maturing horse, and I think he’s finally coming into his own.”

Said Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott of Hold Me Back: “We’re trying him back on the dirt and we’ll see what happens. It’s a big race and we want to give him a chance to show himself. Obviously we think he’s a good horse with a lot of quality. There will be a lot of good horses in there, but a lot of times the favorite doesn’t win.”

Shadwell Farm, the presenting sponsor for last year’s Travers, became the title sponsor of the race in 2009.

“Shadwell Farm is proud to continue its partnership with The New York Racing Association, Inc., by sponsoring the Grade 1 Travers Stakes,” said Rick Nichols, Shadwell’s vice-president and general manager. “Shadwell has always been supportive of New York racing and the opportunity to be involved at Saratoga is a wonderful honor and an exciting experience.

“The history surrounding the Travers and the fact it still remains a dirt race going 1¼ miles makes it a special privilege for us, especially with the Travers approaching its 140th year,” he added. “In 2008, Colonel John’s electrifying victory by a nose illustrated how these athletes create the thrill for both the owners and fans. Being a part of this race continues to bring another realm of energy for Shadwell.”